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McCain and McConnell -- the rivalry continues

McCain, McConnell
McCain and McConnell: This time around it didn't get personal.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The battle over big money in politics is all but over in the Senate, but for the two leading protagonists, the war continues.

"It's not over yet," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, the most vocal opponent of the Senate's all-but-passed campaign finance bill.

"Its over in the Senate, but this is a bill that's fraught with all kinds of constitutional problems and if it becomes law, I'm taking it to court," McConnell declared.

Meanwhile, the chief sponsor of the bill, Arizona Republican John McCain, vows to fight that battle when it comes. But first things first: He's focused on the upcoming battle in the House of Representatives.

"It's been through the House twice by overwhelming majority so I think we can do it," McCain told CNN on Friday. "I do not underestimate that the closer we get to passage, the greater the opposition will be.

"There's no doubt that a win here was important," he said. "But it's still a long way from us having a bill on the president's desk."



The battle continues because for each man it is more of a personal crusade than a Senate debate.

For McConnell, it is a crusade to protect the First Amendment. For McCain, it is a crusade to restore public trust in politics.

The last time they faced off in the Senate, it got personal. McCain read the Webster's Dictionary definition of "corruption," and McConnell took offense.

That was nearly two years ago. The offended McConnell used Senate rules to keep McCain's bill from coming up for a vote.

When McCain took his crusade to last year's presidential campaign trail, he portrayed himself as "Star Wars" hero Luke Skywalker, battling the forces of evil. When the debate hit the Senate floor this time, McConnell jokingly called himself Darth Vader, the "Star Wars" villain.

Republican Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas said of McConnell: "I want to say to my dear colleague from Kentucky that I admire him.

"Very few pundits are applauding," Gramm said. "I just want to say I am one person who's applauding, and I will never ever forget what you've done. It may not be in an editorial, but it's sure as hell enshrined in my heart."

But Gramm emerged from the campaign finance debate with newfound respect for McCain as well.

"He has reminded me in this debate of an ancient god Aeneas whose mother was the Earth, and every time he was thrown to the ground he got up stronger than he had been when he was cast to the ground," Gramm said.

This time around, it didn't get personal. In fact, McConnell, whose frigid relationship with McCain has never been a secret, now says he has never gotten along so well with his adversary.

"We had not been on good terms for years, and I think it was largely because of this issue," McConnell said. "We actually had a good working relationship during the course of the debate. He didn't surprise me, and I didn't surprise him.

"It went well," McConnell said.

The next face-off on campaign finance reform may be months away. The House is not expected to take up the issue until this summer at the earliest.

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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